SPRINGFIELD, IL – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) joined Senate Republican colleagues on March 13 to acknowledge that there is a “free lunch” in education funding – but the Caucus’ in depth examination of the state’s system of school funding shows “it’s Chicago that is receiving it.”
Sen. Rezin said there are great disparities between the funding Chicago schools receive compared to the funding suburban and downstate schools receive. She noted that while fixing the state’s school funding inequities are needed, it should not be confused with critical pension reforms.
“Just because the state picks up some of the teachers’ pension costs, it does not mean that the downstate and suburban school districts are receiving a ‘free lunch’ from the state,” Sen. Rezin said. “Our schools are already struggling with funding cuts from past years and possible further cuts and our analysis shows that the funding differences between downstate and suburban schools and Chicago schools are quite substantial. This false claim of a ‘free lunch’ is jeopardizing the efforts to move forward with pension reform.”
Senate Republicans started to analyze the school funding disparities once cost shift proposals began to emerge as a part of the pension reform solution.
Below is the Senate Republican Caucus press release:
Who gets the ‘free lunch’?
Illinois Senate Republicans today acknowledged there is a “free lunch” in education funding – but the Caucus’ in depth examination of the state’s system of school funding shows “it’s Chicago that is receiving it.”
“Even if the Chicago Public School system bears a slightly higher burden for teacher pension payments, this is offset many times over by other components of school funding,” Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said.
“We found that even though Chicago Public Schools account for roughly 18% of Illinois’ public schoolchildren, the state has been ‘super-sizing’ their lunch—to the tune of $772 million additional funding they receive each year through special considerations and grant lines. Compare that to the $104 million so-called ‘free lunch’ that downstate and suburban schools receive to educate 82 percent of Illinois’ students,” Radogno said.
“We’re not here to ignite a regional war over school funding fairness. And we certainly recognize the very real challenges every school district in Illinois is facing. But the false claims that downstate and suburban school districts are getting a ‘free lunch’ because the state picks up some teachers’ pension costs is jeopardizing sincere efforts to solve our financial crisis,” Radogno said.
Radogno explained the Caucus began its examination into the state’s distribution of education resources after ‘cost shift’ proposals emerged and the Governor’s office provided information they believed bolstered the argument.
“When you scratch below the surface of the State Board of Education data they provided – and dig for more – the reality emerges. Through outdated formulas, a de-emphasis on the foundation level which equalizes school districts’ property wealth and a shift to special grant lines — Chicago receives a disproportionate share of the state’s education resources,” Senator Radogno said.
Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) explained the Property Tax Limitation Law (PTELL) Adjustments are a prime example. “PTELL adjustments were designed to ensure school districts were not punished because property values were climbing faster than allowed under tax caps,” Murphy said.
“However, the program has exploded and particularly benefits Chicago Public Schools. Chicago enrolls 18% of the students, but receives 49% of the PTELL dollars. It’s a free lunch of $196 million for CPS.”
Radogno said, “The story is not different in the Poverty Grant lines. In years past, the census determined the number of low income students. Now DHS makes the calculation based on Medicaid and its other programs – leading to skyrocketing numbers. Its curvilinear formula financially rewards high poverty concentration – which makes some sense – but leads to grants of $2513 per impoverished students in Chicago, but a student with similar circumstances in Mt. Zion receives $390. That’s a wild disparity.”
In all, Chicago enrolls 31% of the poverty students in Illinois but receives 47% of the Poverty Grant funding. It’s a free lunch of $255 million.
Senator Sam McCann (R- Carlinville) said the examination shows a shift away from the Foundation Level of support that benefits almost all schools resulting in greater funding for Chicago. “Up until recently, the Foundation Level portion of General State Aid was the primary component of state support for schools. It was 88% of the funding in 2000. But now – the Foundation Level makes up only 53% of the funding and the rest comes from the Poverty Grants and PTELL Adjustments that are benefitting Chicago.”
“But you won’t find it in all the budget books – it’s all just lumped under ‘General State Aid.’ That’s the first thing I’d like to change. We need more transparency,” McCann said.
Senator McCann added, “Schools throughout the state are being denied access to the state’s education resources. Only ten schools get 57% of the money allocated for Poverty Grants and PTELL — $1.3 billion. That leaves a lot less money available for Foundation Level grants – the very formula that is supposed to equalize school districts and ensure everyone has an opportunity at a quality education. It also means more reliance on downstate and suburban property taxpayers.”
Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) pointed to the current distribution of the Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax grants. “Chicago enrolls 18% of the student population in the state, but it receives 27% of the total revenue from this special income tax. It’s a formula that has not changed since the PPRT was created more than 30 years ago. And it means an extra $67 million is going to Chicago instead of helping the school districts in my communities and across Illinois.”
A 1995 school funding formula guarantees Chicago 30% of special education funding. “They receive 30% of the total funding, but are only responsible for 17% of the special needs students in the state,” Barickman said. “Regardless of the number of students they serve, CPS receives 30% off the top. But every other school district in Illinois must compete for the remaining dollars by submitting vouchers for reimbursement of their actual costs.
“It means a free lunch — $197 million extra for Chicago schools,” Barickman said.
The same outdated block grant formula guarantees CPS 37% of the state funding for Early Childhood Education. But Chicago has only 18% of the student population. “Once again a child in Chicago has access to state resources far beyond what a child in similar conditions would have in downstate or suburban schools,” Barickman said. “And it means a free lunch of $57 million for Chicago.”
Leader Radogno said, “Our examination clearly shows serious issues that undermine fair access to education for all Illinois students. It’s time for Illinois to have a thorough, candid and responsible debate on school funding.
“But today we must deal with the crisis at hand,” Radogno concluded.
Sen. Rezin is pictured in the press conference with Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) speaking and other Senate Republican colleagues.